Film Review: 24 Hours to LiveA mishmash of decent action scenes smooshed into a weak revenge-thriller premise that only comes together towards the end.
It’s not uncommon for stuntmen and stunt coordinators to eventually shift their focus to directing. Sometimes it works out great and a new career is born, but that isn’t necessarily the case with Brian Smrz, director of 24 Hours to Live, the latest “B” action movie from Saban Films.
The opening gunfight and car chase through a small village on the border between Namibia and South Africa makes it obvious that action is Smrz’s forte. The sequence doesn’t give us enough time to process what’s happening before we cut to Ethan Hawke’s Travis Conrad fishing on a beach in the Florida Keys with his father-in-law, Frank (Rutger Hauer). Conrad is an assassin on hiatus after the murder of his wife and son, but he’s called in from vacation by his handler Jim (Paul Anderson of “Peaky Blinders”) to kill corporate whistleblower Keith Zera (Tyrone Keogh), the guy we saw earlier being chased through Africa. He’s being protected by Interpol agent Lin (Qing Xu), who Travis “bumps into” at a Cape Town airport; they have a quick tryst in a hotel room (for no particular reason) before they start shooting at each other.
It takes almost 30 minutes before we get to the premise advertised by the title, giving Conrad only “24 hours to live.” He’s shot and seemingly killed, but then revived by a doctor who explains he’s living on borrowed time from an experimental procedure—even giving him a countdown timer embedded into his arm to remind him. Travis kidnaps the doctor and goes on a crazy rampage, still trying to figure out who murdered his wife and son.
Apparently, the company that hired Travis has been up to no good in Africa, doing experiments on refugees, and the head of that company, Wetzler (Liam Cunningham), sends Travis’ good friend Jim to clean up loose ends. When that doesn’t work, they kidnap Lin’s son, so Travis agrees to help her get him back. Got all that?
The surface blueprint for 24 Hours to Live is Keanu Reeves in his John Wick movies, both of which were also directed by stuntmen. Watching Hawke go nuts and kill people is fun for a short time, but the movie never quite figures out what it wants to be, trying to play up the emotions with flashbacks to Travis spending time with his son.
The revenge scenario is shoehorned in with so many other ideas, the storytelling seems to be all over the place. The movie’s clear throwbacks to the goofiness of ’90s action movies can be somewhat endearing, but it’s never clear why Travis would take the job in the first place or why those who revived him would immediately turn around and try to kill him again.
24 Hours to Livesometimes feels like it’s trying to be a good movie, but the dialogue can be laughably bad, spoken too seriously in order to give it more weight. Most of the cast is decent enough—Anderson is particularly good—and Hawke has enough charm and personality to make his character work, but he can only elevate the material so much as you patiently listen to all the exposition before the next action scene.
Things get slightly better during the film’s last 30 minutes: Once everything is set up, Smrz can focus more on the action, which is clearly his comfort zone. These action sequences are very well done, with a suitable score by Tyler Bates, who probably not by coincidence also composed the music for Atomic Blonde from one of the former-stuntman directors of John Wick.
If a couple of cool car chases and gunfights are enough to make you forgive everything else, 24 Hours to Live may be for you, but the movie’s biggest crime is how it underuses Rutger Hauer. The veteran actor appears for barely five minutes, just so we see how great he and Hawke work together onscreen, but he’s mostly forgotten after that. This isn’t a terrible movie as much as one that needed way more Hauer.
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